Pubdate: Sat, 26 Sep 2015
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2015 Miami Herald Media Co.
Author: David Ovalle


A jury did not believe a Miami-Dade man who insisted he grew 15 
marijuana plants inside his home only to help ease the suffering of 
his cancer-stricken wife.

The six-member jury on Friday night convicted Ricardo Varona of 
trafficking more than 25 pounds of marijuana and operating a 
marijuana growhouse. Taken into custody to await sentencing, Varona 
faces a mandatory minimum of three years in prison.

Varona, 43, was the second South Florida man in the past six months 
to claim "medical neccesity" in operating a marijuana growhouse. 
Unlike in the Varona case, a Broward jury in March acquitted 
50-year-old Jesse Teplicki, who admitted he grew 46 plants to battle 
years of nausea and fatigue.

The trial came at a time that marijuana laws across the country have 
been eased, with the herb now legal for medical use in more than 20 
states, and for recreational purposes in four states, plus Washington, D.C.

In Florida, the Legislature this year authorized a low-grade strain 
of marijuana to treat a small number of ailments, including cancer. 
In October, the state will hash out which growers will be allowed to 
cultivate the plants; patients will likely be able to get access to 
marijuana sometime early next year.

In Varona's case, he was arrested after Miami-Dade detectives found a 
hydroponics operation inside a second-floor bedroom of his Southwest 
Miami-Dade home in July 2014.

The plants, according to prosecutors, weighed 103 pounds and would 
have yielded 30 pounds of usable marijuana. The $90,000 worth of weed 
was simply too much for one person's consumption, Miami-Dade 
prosecutor David Emas told jurors on Friday.

"It's all about the numbers. It's all about the volume," Emas said. 
"The man was helping out his wife - he was also helping out his wallet."

But Varona's defense lawyers presented a novel defense in a state 
where marijuana remains illegal for recreational use and is still 
unauthorized for medicinal reasons. Varona's wife, Maria Varona, was 
diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and although in remission, must 
take prevention medication that makes her extremely nauseous.

The marijuana in the house was only intended to be infused into food 
for the wife, Assistant Public Defender Jose Aguirre said. He called 
it a "medical necessity" and said the cops' estimates of the weight 
of the drugs was pure speculation.

"It was never about money. It was never about selling. It was always 
about his wife," Aguirre said, at one point tearing up in talking 
about his client's "honorable" decision to grow the plants.

He added: "They want you to believe he's Pablo Escobar or Walter 
White, but he's just a man trying to help out his wife with the 
medicine she needs."

The three-day trial featured the testimony of the wife, a medicinal 
marijuana advocate neurologist and a successful marijuana cultivator 
in Colorado, which boasts a thriving cannabis industry.
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